Wright County has had issues with the Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) for the last several years. Despite being the 10th largest county in Minnesota, the only DVS testing station in Wright County was in Buffalo – and only open two days a week.
By most measures, the DVS system was a failure prior to COVID-19, as appointments for driver’s testing were backlogged weeks to months in advance. Once the pandemic began, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) shut down all DVS stations in the state for six weeks. When they re-opened in May, the Buffalo station (and 75 percent of the other stations) remained closed – a situation that still exists.
At its April 6 meeting, the Wright County Board of Commissioners approved sending a letter to the delegation of senators and representatives at the Minnesota State Legislature that represent Wright County asking for alternatives to the current stalemate.
Commissioner Darek Vetsch said the situation has been a problem for years and only made worse by the pandemic and having fewer testing centers doesn’t help solve the problem.
“There is clearly a need here,” Vetsch said. “When the state shut down testing centers last year, there were 93 of them across the state. A year later, there are still only 20 testing centers that are open and the closest ones to Wright County is either in Plymouth or St. Cloud and they’re booked out months in advance.”
In a December 2020 report (Legislative Report on the DPS-DVS Exam Backlog) that served as an indictment of the current system, the report listed DVS’s plan for gradually re-opening sites. Through May 2021, it would have only 30 testing sites open and none of them would be in Wright County. Vetsch said the only way to get service back to Wright County is for Legislative action because there is no guarantee the testing station will ever re-open, despite space being available in the new Government Center when it opens in early 2022.
“The reason we want this letter to go to our full delegation is because I’m hoping to have more conversations with DVS about our testing facility in Buffalo and when or if it is ever going to re-open,” Vetsch said. “We need to get some hard facts, dates and times and hopefully get them all on paper about operations in Wright County.”
Commissioner Christine Husom added that young drivers needing to get tests done to get the first driver’s licenses are only part of the problem. Commercial drivers who need the same testing have had jobs put on hold as they desperately try to find a testing site that can get them tested in weeks instead of months.
“It’s a huge concern for commercial drivers,” Husom said. “Where do they go? That’s their livelihood. It’s bad enough for the 16-year-olds who have to drive to Brainerd or Rochester or wherever they have to go (to get a timely appointment). For our commercial drivers, it’s critical.”
The board approved the letter that was included in the agenda packet (http://www.co.wright.mn.us/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/9200?fileID=19423). At the request of Commissioner Mary Wetter the reference in the first paragraph on Page 2 citing private third-party testing House and Senate files was removed. The board unanimously approved sending the letter to its entire Legislative delegation.